Hybrid route to heaven
It could be the ultimate Porsche and yet it’s a joy to drive, fast or slow
MARK Webber is a magician in a Porsche 918. Me? I’m rubbish. When Webber took me for hot laps at Albert Park during the Australian Grand Prix he dug deep into the incredible power, grip and technology of the $1.5 million Porsche hybrid hero, cranking up to 260km/h on the pit straight and hustling it through the corners at speeds to unsettle a V8Supercar driver.
I will never forget the first uppercut of 650kW as we came out of the Albert Park pitlane, or the moment when we went off course at the high-speed flip‒flop when Webber misjudged his braking because he felt as if he was back in his Red Bull F1 car. I thought I was heading for hospital.
When I get to Phillip Island and slide from the passenger seat to the action station, things are very different.
This is the same car — brutally fast in a way that’s hard to explain beyond a 0-100km/h time of 2.6 seconds and a top speed of 345km/h — but I can’t believe how easy it is to drive.
It makes an everyday driver look like a superstar. I find it easy to romp to 250km/h on the pit straight and corner at speeds
that make a Porsche 911 GT3 look pedestrian. I have the wheel and pedals but it’s the 918 that has the control.
It’s an absolutely brilliant car that currently sits at the top of world motoring alongside the McLaren F1 and Ferrari LaFerrari. All are hybrids but, instead of using their electric motors to green the world, they are fitted to give the effect of a battery-boosted supercharger.
In the case of the 918, three electric motors integrate seamlessly into an all-wheel drive package. The seven-speed PDK manu-matic gearbox with paddle-shifters is among the most intuitive I’ve struck in any car. It is far better at red-line upshifts when the petrol V8 spins to 9000 revs and makes brilliant downshifts for hot laps.
Yet the 918 will also run for 31km purely on electric power while clocking 6.2 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint and topping out at 150km/h.
There is a lot to like about the ultimate Porsche — and some things to love — but it’s not all good news.
The car is only built in left‒hand drive and then there’s the seven-figure price tag. It’s also noisy, pretty cramped in the cabin and takes some learning with all the electronic complications.
I’ve only got three driving laps at Phillip Island but Porsche is preparing me well with track time in both a 911 Turbo and GT3 in advance of the ultimate roller-coaster ride. Both cars feel lovely and fast, with the GT3 a fair bit sharper and averaging better than 150km/h around the island circuit.
But the 918 Spyder is something else again, which is why Matthias Hoffsuemmer — chief driving instructor on the car, with more than 40,000km at the wheel — has taken over from Webber as the lead driver. He has flown from Germany to demonstrate the car as well as ride shotgun to ensure there are no mishaps.
He starts gently, showing how the car performs in full electric mode, before uncorking some of the performance.
Conjure up any list of supercars. None of them is as whack-me-back as the 918. Or as impressive under brakes. Or capable of building such incredibly high speeds in such a short time and distance. The 918 is other-worldly, so fast and yet so easy to drive.
To keep me in check on the hot laps, Porsche has provided a pace car — a Carrera Cup racer no less, piloted by champion driver Craig Baird.
It’s quickly clear that the 918 is faster than the Cup car in lots of conditions, as I’m able to outbrake Baird and pull alongside as we accelerate down the straight. And he’s in a full race car.
To be honest, I’m struggling to keep pace with the 918. It’s so darned fast that I’m wrung out after three laps, trying to keep my eyes down the road and my reflexes tuned to the speed. Then I slow, and realise the 918 can also go slow.
It’s not nearly as much fun but as my heart rate slows I can appreciate the quality of the cabin, the brilliant dials, the comfort of the race-style seat and the incredible outward vision ... not to forget the lift‒out carbon-fibre roof panels, the active aerodynamics with a giant rear wing and the top-exit exhaust pipes.
In a concluding hot lap alongside Hoffsuemmer, the car feels quicker than it did with Webber — because I can relax and watch instead of hanging on and screaming inside.
He uncorks a lap in 1 minute 38.02 seconds.
For clarity, the 918 is on road tyres and the track is hot, and the V8 Supercar lap record belongs to six-time champion Jamie Whincup at 1:32.02.
The 918 Spyder is a 21stcentury speed machine, a techno-marvel that takes Porsche road cars to a new level.
Magician: Mark Webber at the wheel of the 918 Spyder